Thoughts on Open Source, Open Standards, and Online Advertising : Data Sportability Pt 2

In 2005 I started FindMeOn after noticing some serious flaws in the use of OpenID. The base of the system grew out of the identity & publisher syndication components of a music website I had been working on with friends for a few years. When the music project went on hiatus, I decided to flesh out the identity system into its own entity. I wanted FindMeOn to be a full-fledged standalone / open source project to allow for secure online identity management/syndication because I truly cared about that, and no one else did at the time. On the flip side, years in marketing taught me the marketing value of information identity could deliver — so the system was designed to create a revenue model that gives brands & ad agencies better insight to their consumer distribution across networks.

From late 2005 to mid 2006 I met with dozens of agency execs, online experts and VC investors to vett my concept, and I learned my monetization scheme wasn’t enough — everyone required a higher monetization potential from it. By April 2006 the answer was clear: FindMeOn was not just going to offer cross-site information for dispersion intel, but for social demographics and online advertising… selling targeted advertising or media planning services.

I spent the next few months learning how the entrepreneur in me could reconcile open source beliefs with unadulterated american capitalism.

Maybe I’m wrong, won’t you tell me if I’m coming on too strong

With this in mind, I offer the following industry commentary. Keep in mind that this is pure conjecture from research and analysis; I can offer this only as insight not fact — but I am certain that it is accurate.

As I mentioned in my followup to DataPortability Podcast #5, The Facebook management team was absolutely brilliant in concepting their API strategy. I will easily credit them with getting the whole portability thing rolling by releasing their API – which set the precedent of a platform API that users and developers would adopt en-masse. It was working so well, that Facebook was gaining tons of user activity within-site, and gaining new developers to build applications FOR them. Facebook was also becoming a much bigger threat to their competitors than previously thought…

MySpace and the other major social networks suddenly had an entirely new level to compete on. While these other networks were constantly shifting between friend & foe with third party developers ( blocking their widgets, announcing partnership deals, repeat ), Facebook – who previously kept all widgets off their network – suddenly had a dedicated & robust *platform* dedicated to widget/app developers that was the darling of the internet community. Facebook was suddenly making developers happy, users happy, and — most threatening of all — showing a giant head start in this new ‘economy’ by seting the bar.

Lurking in the background was a stealthy figure who was realizing they would soon need to compete against Facebook: google. Why? Well, the search/advertising giant wasn’t worried so much about Facebook as a Social Media competitor, but what intelligence gleaned from Social Media could power — online advertising.

Here are some neat facts about the social media advertising market in the US in the Summer of 2007.

– Social Media advertising is the largest growing segment of internet advertising — as its the largest growing segment of the internet ).

– The 2008 projections for social media ad spends are around 800MM; the 2009 projections are 1300MM; and 1900MM in 2010.

– Social Media is probably the worst performing sector of online advertising. As an illustrative figure: its responsible for 90% of impressions, but only 10% of revenue.

A well optimized online publisher, like the New York Times, commands hefty eCPMs ( effective costs per 1000 ad impressions ) – upwards of $20; with a rumored $85 eCPM page monetization. MySpace is somewhere between .10¢ eCPM for a generic buy to $2.00 for an ultra optimized query — not very impressive.

Facebook has long been one of the best monetized social networks, consistently demanding eCPMs in the $1.50 to $8 range. A rumor was circulating in the Summer of 2007 that the Palo Alto firm was developing an off-site advertising network to display ads across the internet based on cookied data off their users. This is what Google was scared of.

As more population demographics adopt the Facebook platform, this rumored ad system increasingly jeopardized Google’s position as the internets premier ad network. Even more troubling, Google knew that Facebook had the talent and power to develop this competition — they weren’t just a large firm, but recruiting the new employees Google wanted first, and even hiring key staff members away from Mountain View.

There Ain’t No Second Chance Against The Thing With Forty Eyes

Google and MySpace had to respond – and act fast. So they come up with a daring little plan: they teamed up together to sketch out a competing platform, roped in a couple of other networks who were threatened by the burgeoning Facebook, and wanted to beat them with sheer numbers. Since Facebook had a ‘closed’ platform, Google decided to ‘open’ things up to foster more adoption with tons of “open standards” and “open source” — even calling their system ‘OpenSocial’. Through the use of the word “Open” everywhere, and multi-network capabilities, the new alliance of ‘once-enemies , now friends’ gathered against the mighty Facebook would hopefully woo more developers to the ‘OpenSocial’ market — stagnating Facebook’s platform growth.

As a quick side note, Google’s OpenSocial project kind of sounds like a whole lot like FindMeOn’s “Open SN (Open Social Network)” in both function and name. One would think their army of patent and trademark lawyers would have ‘googled’ their own product ideas for clearance…

Since everyone was trading punches over being more open and more awesome than the other guy, Facebook quickly had an equally brilliant reply — they subsidized free hosting through a partnership program with Sun and Joyent, started giving out cash grants to spur development, and their backing investors started a new VC fund focused solely on Facebook applications. Take that! said Facebook as a sea of developers eagerly built products for their platform.

You’ve got to roll with the punches to get to whats real

Over the next four months, a plethora of large scale announcements would come from Google and Facebook as new players jumped into the fray.

Google decided to make OpenSocial a non-profit venture to bolster PR, even pulling in Yahoo to the relaunched initiative; the announcement was met by the praise of many tech-pundits, who talked about how wonderful the concept of a non-profit was. Predictably, everyone likened the initiative to civic minded non-profits – and none suggested the more relevant correlation: non-profit registered industry lobby fronts like the ‘National Smokers Alliance’ or ‘Global Climate Council’ that pipe tobacco and oil dollars into misleading consumer campaigns. Who can forget 2007’s hit webformercial “Carbon Dioxide: Some call it pollution, we call it Life”.

Nothing short of a ‘pissing match’ started between the large tech giants. In an almost round-robin fashion, each company would announce a new product that somehow ‘outdoes’ the last announcement from a competitor. Facebook expanded privacy controls, Google announced a ‘Social Graph API’, Microsoft jumped in with their ‘Windows Live API’, MySpace teamed with Yahoo and eBay to do ‘Data Availability’. Every other week, a new batch of PR announcements and partnerships are released — all accompanied by a hastily created set of documents, big-name backers, and incorporating one or more open standards while creating a few of their own.

These initiatives have been so hasilty and half-assed designed, that I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon learn that half of these products came solely out of the marketing departments, and the technology teams never saw anything until after a press announcement.

Today, *everyone* has an Open Standard and an Open Platform — myself included — which begs the obvious question: what good are open standards and platforms, if everyone has a different one? And are things really open when their main purpose is to further a proprietary system?

Perhaps more importantly – how many of the tech giants have collaborated with third-party developers to define these new Open platforms?

The industry’s modus operandi seems to be

1. BigTech decides what to open up and how
2. BigTech invites top widget makers / networks to be launch partners
3. Third party developers are then told “So this is how you’ll use it. Welcome to the new status quo. Happier?”.

Now I could be wrong — I’m three thousand miles removed from the SF bubble where all the ‘Open’ decisions are made — but I’ve yet to hear of any interactive agencies, dev shops, or brands who build/finance most of the ‘widget’ development being included in these conversations. I’ve been meeting with them non-stop to try and rectify that — and as of yet, no one I’ve met has even been polled by a large ‘platform’ for their input.

Thoughts on Open Source, Open Standards, and Online Advertising : Data Sportability Pt 1


This is the first part of a series that I have been working on for a few weeks. The current combined text is 6,000 words – so I’m releasing it in sections.

Apologies to those who have been expecting this sooner — I originally wrote this in early/mid May, but have been busy with business too much to work on editing.


I’ve been using a new term when I talk to people of the internets: Data Sportability. I use it to describe how sporty and flashy ‘data portability’ is, and how that flashiness and sportiness is the true essence of this new ‘movement’ (note: I mean the general movement of data portabality, not the Data Portability working group.

The utopian pitcure of interconnected networks… with data sharing, integration and portability abound is indeed something beautiful — but its just a veneer. Beneath the surface, or more aptly ‘under the hood’, it’s a vicious fight over who has the fastest car, the biggest engine, the latest fuel-injected cooling systems… you get the idea.

Like most services on the internet, Data Sportability isn’t about the end user, it’s about the big networks and service providers… and who has the coolest car.

I’m hoping it picks up, so people other than my friends know what I’m talking about.

Interested? Read on!

Too hot to handle

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, “Data Portability” is hottest thing to hit the internet since the Paris Hilton sex tape… and as we all know in Paris’ own words, “That’s Hott!”. Also very much like Ms Hilton, portability is nice and pretty on the outside, but deeply troubled on the inside.

Here’s a quick history lesson-

Two years ago, the internet was a pretty different place than it is today. There were only a handful of major social networks, and most people ( users, pundits, experts ) looked at minor networks, niche ones (example: CafeMom), and social applications (example: LastFM, Flickr) with utter contempt. The major networks were also doing everything in their power to ‘lock’ users down into their systems — completing blocking images/videos/widgets etc from appearing on user pages whenever a service like YouTube or PhotoBucket had a popularity spike.

Thanks to technical innovations that lowered the barriers to entry, and whitelabel services like Ning and KickApps, everyone and their mother has a social network of their own today.

To maintain the loyalty of their userbases in then tens of millions, all the major players are quickly adapting with standards, platforms, and press releases touting how ‘open’ they are. Companies that recently charged users through subscription models to access their walled gardens are suddennly embracing openness, and pushing for new paradigms in the industry. And the pundits and network evangelists… they simply *love* talking about integration, open standards, and data portability ( as either the base concept or the new standards group ‘’ ) — but that only raises the obvious question: why have so many groups gone a complete 180° turn?

The popular response ( aka: the public relations soundbite ) is that the networks are now proudly putting their users first; that we’ve all grown together, learned from our mistakes, and the old marketing department heads / decision makers have been replaced with new evangelists… embracing open standards and cooperation; Rainbows are everywhere and unicorns have magically appeared, frolicking in the streets.

Kool-Aid seems to be the most popular drink around.

It’s all about the benjamins

Let’s be real for a second- the social internet isn’t about connecting people, it’s about monetizing their experience. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or stupid.

Once upon a time (or just nine months ago), Social Networks weren’t all that different from cellphone carriers in the way they operated — they locked you into a contract/network, made it a pain-in-the-ass to communicate with people on other networks, and basically held you hostage to not leave. If you manage to finally figure a way out of their maze, they magically offer you every single premium imaginable to stay.

A few years ago US the cellphone industry got regulated – users could finally port their phone number from one carrier to another. Citizens embraced this as finally seeing progress… but they didn’t realize it was at the expense of some shady stuff behind the scenes thanks to line items and back-room deals from industry lobbyists. After years of resistance the networks didn’t actually ‘cave’ in… they knew they eventually *had* to give in, so they figured out ways to handle it on their terms — protecting their end interests.

Data portability is pretty much the same, perhaps a bit more duplicitous… as a ton of extremely corporate interests are neatly packaged in a pretty little user friendly PR campaign. Data portability isn’t about empowering a user, or promoting open source and open standards — it’s about data mining, user tracking, and advertising efficiency.

I know because I’ve been there, I’ve done that; I helped write the playbook. My company FindMeOn was one of the first out of the gates selling the ‘Data Portability’ illusion — and over the past 9 months, every single big tech firm has gone through the exact same growing pains and learnings curves we did: they’ve released the same exact technologies, in roughly the same orders, even using roughly the same names.

So I’m going to talk about what FindMeOn was really up to all along, and explain what the new players in this arena are really doing — it’s anything but the grand illusion of user control. In the process I’ll predict the next few developments from bigtech, dispel some illusions, and recontextualize this faux openness into what it really is – internet marketing, plain and simple.

Some may point out dozens of pundits and developers who have only the best intentions. To that I say: sure they are — but look who pays their bills and is funding their research, it’s for a reason!

Is OpenID actually Open?

Note: There are updates following this posting

This has troubled me for a few years now…

I just asked the DataPortability group for clarification… but in a nutshell ( and reprinted below )

To-date, I’ve been unable to find any sort of licensing attributed to
the OpenID or oAuth specs.

To the best of my knowledge:
– neither has been explicitly placed in the public domain
– neither has been submitted to IETF, thereby covered by its IP
– neither have released a CC or OSI license with their specs

The only licensing statements I’ve found in OpenID are in regards to a
non-assertation agreement and transfer of copyright to the OpenID
foundation. The foundation uses the goal “The goal is to release
every part of this under the most liberal licenses possible, so
there’s no money or licensing or registering required to play.”
However I see no license on any of the specs, just on the
implementation libraries.

Correct me if I’m wrong here, please… but shouldn’t these projects
have some sort of open licensing on their specs ? Microformats, APML,
XFN, FOAF, RSS all explicity use CC licenses on their specs. RDF is
covered by W3C. OPML has what seems to be a CC-noderivs. XMPP is
covered by the IETF’s IP policy.

Going by US Copyright and Patent standards, copyright is implicit and
technically rests with the authors/foundations; and technologies may
be patented until 1yr from date of initial public disclosure.

So my questions are:
1. Are there hidden open licenses or public domain placements that
I’m just unaware of ?
2. If there are no explicit open licenses on these:
– what does this mean? It’s great that the implementations are
license free, but could they be construed as violations of copyright /
patent / something at a future point ?
– how are two of the most popular ‘Open Standards’ the only two
without any sort of prominent licensing on their specifications ?

Basically, every single OpenStandard out there — even FindMeOn’s OpenSN ( Open Social Network ) and
findmeon node standards , have CC licenses ( usually share-alike, or attribution/no-derivs ), are covered by the IETF’s liberal open IP policies, have some sort of OSI comparable license, or are put in the public domain.

OpenID, and interestingly enough oAuth, have no licenses whatsoever.

Libraries of / implementations of the specs are released under OSI licenses, but the spec’s themselves have no visible licensing terms at-all.

How in the hell did both of these protocols get so popular – and backed by large companies – with nebulous licensing terms?

More importantly, is OpenID actually open?

Update #1: Gabriel Wachob has pointed me to — in which the oAuth authors license the spec in with a CC license. I suggested he migrate that license to their actual website & spec , as every other project does. oAuth is definitively open.